County is still out of compliance

A second rejection of bylaw language changes by the state Department of Employee Relations (DOER) left the Heritage Living Center campus board and Hubbard County scrambling for options.

A second rejection of bylaw language changes by the state Department of Employee Relations (DOER) left the Heritage Living Center campus board and Hubbard County scrambling for options.

In an emergency meeting Monday, the Heritage board approved the use of legal counsel on bylaw language.

"It's like a big dam with the water rising and the pressure increasing," said Heritage director Kurt Hansen.

County commissioners last changed the bylaws April 18 in an attempt to comply with a failed 2006 pay equity review. The county must show compliance by July 31 or face increasing fines.

The campus board directed lawyers retained by management company Ecumen to review the bylaws and determine if an adequate level of separation between the nursing home and the county would exempt Heritage from inclusion under the county's pay equity report.


Lawyers will also draft, if necessary, new bylaws to reflect necessary changes. Cost for the legal advice is currently unknown, Hansen said.

Additionally, the board's action directs new representatives to work with DOER pay-equity coordinator Faith Zwemke on compliance.

If a complete revision of bylaws does not solve matters, the county board of commissioners may consider selling the nursing home, said commissioner Dick Devine.

Campus board members remained adamant about reaching a solution.

"We can't just throw in the towel on this yet," said Ecumen vice president of operations Janet Green.

Roots of the problem

Differences in payment on health care benefits between nursing home employees and other county workers accounted for the discrepancy in the Hubbard County 2006 pay-equity report, said county coordinator Jack Paul.

County employees receive $1,150 per month in health care payment benefits compared with a payout of $474 per month for Heritage employees.


Budgetary concerns prompted workers to accept employer limits on health care in January 2005.

A predominance of female workers at Heritage skewed data for gender pay-equity, Paul said.

Hansen said he ran several alternative scenarios for pay changes, but nothing short of paying an extra $500,000 for health care benefits could alter the pay discrepancy to within the required 80 percent margin.

"That's why we changed it in the first place," Hansen said.

Paul said Zwemke's main objection to the revised bylaw language stemmed from a reference in article five to the campus board operating "under the jurisdiction and control of Hubbard County board of commissioners."

"The reality is, the campus board runs the whole show," Paul said.

Campus board members remained skeptical of any further amendments satisfying the criteria for pay-equity compliance.

"If there is any connection to the county, it will always be considered county affiliated for her... we can try another amendment, but you've seen the results before," said campus board member and former commisssioner Floyd Frank.


"It seems she's playing games with us," agreed Green.

Frank asked if removing the provision in its entirety from the bylaws would change the ruling.

Paul said he doubted another amendment would be sufficient and wondered whether new representatives may help smooth over the dilemma.

"I've never changed her (Zwemke's) mind on anything. I have a pretty low batting average," said Paul.

Hansen and Green agreed as part of the resolution to meet with Zwemke and work out any remaining details in a plan.

The motion, made by Devine and seconded by member Earl Wagner, passed unanimously.

Pondering solutions

Campus board members posed several alternatives before deciding on the bylaw redraft.


"Maybe we should really look at leasing this facility to Ecumen. Our relationship with them is really strong," Frank said.

Frank admitted transferring benefits and retirement plans for employees would pose a difficult challenge to private operation.

Hansen suggested Heritage Living Center could create a non-profit group to administer the nursing home.

Devine said the county board likely would not approve the measure as the board would not "think you could survive on your own."

"We have not had subsidies from the county to date... we now pay any extra employee compensation we need through our housing fund and pay off the balance now pretty quick," Hansen replied.

As a non-profit, Heritage could continue to receive state funding and be exempt from state property taxes, Green added.

Devine said if the county board was given the opportunity, several members would likely move to sell the nursing home.

"There is no way the county can accept an ongoing deficit," Devine said.


Green noted Ecumen would probably not be interested in purchasing the nursing home as the company is currently looking at investing in home care services.

As a private venture, the nursing home employees stand to make less in wages and benefits, she added.

Board members agreed little time is left to find a lasting solution.

"It's two months away, which is not a lot of time. We need to have a solution," said Paul.

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